The bracing and inventive new novel of suspicions and secrecy from Herman Koch, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dinner
When Robert Walter, popular mayor of Amsterdam, sees his wife toss her head back with laughter while chatting to one of his aldermen at a New Year's reception, he immediately suspects the worst. Despite their long and happy marriage, Robert is convinced that Sylvia is cheating on him—with the respectable alderman who is dedicated to the environment, no less. The man who wants to spoil the capital's skyline with wind turbines.
The New Year's reception marks the end of the “happy family” era that the mayor has enjoyed for so long. His wife and their daughter, Diana, however, are not aware of his suspicions and carry on as usual. Robert starts spending a lot of time and energy “behaving normally.” Naturally, his normal behavior is far more suspicious. Normally Robert's not really present when he's at home--he's preoccupied with his phone, the newspapers, and his own thoughts. But now Robert is so sure he'll miss the clues if he doesn't pay attention that he starts to be almost alarmingly attentive and interested--ultimately losing himself in increasingly panicked and paranoid trains of thought.
Written with Herman Koch's trademark originality, playfulness, and edge, The Ditch is a wildly clever—and guttingly familiar—story of a man whose sadistic skill for undermining himself and his marriage comes to cost him nearly everything.
Praise for The Ditch
“Provocation, life in the spotlight and tasty cuisine are also present and accounted for in Koch’s spiky new book, The Ditch. . . . Koch again seeks to show the fault lines beneath the surface of ostensibly civilized society.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Clever, rollicking, and intense . . . an unreliable tale for the ages.”—Vanity Fair
“Koch has crafted a pitch-perfect tone for a man consumed by jealousy. . . . A shadowy tale of the power of projection.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A compelling exploration by a master stylist of what jealousy and distrust can do even to a solid relationship.”—Booklist
The mayor of Amsterdam stumbles through a thicket of domestic dramas in the disappointing latest from Koch (Summer House with Swimming Pool). After mayor Robert Walter sees his wife, Sylvia, chatting amiably with an alderman at a New Year's reception, he becomes convinced they are having an affair. Robert goes on to spend many pages ruminating on whether Sylvia is cheating on him and what she and the alderman may or may not say or text to one another. Robert is a pleasant enough narrator, but his refusal to actually do much of anything (other than ponder) gets old quickly. Meanwhile, Robert's nonagenarian parents have decided on elective suicide, the timeline for which keeps shrinking; a reporter confronts Robert with damning evidence of alleged wrongdoing from his past (Robert's reaction is exceedingly hard to believe); and Robert's old friend faces a stark decision about his life. This comes across as a case of a narrator in search of a plot; some passages are real head-scratchers (anyone who has ever wondered about the recent history of Amsterdam's municipal glass recycling program is in for a treat) and the narrative's late tilt into metaphysical matters is ill-advised. Less definitely would have been more; hopefully Koch returns to form next time.